St. John the Baptist Parish in Lockport has a nearly 40-year history of outreach to Eastern Niagara County, helping the low-income households to eat, sleep and stay clothed. Now, the parish wants to start a program to help the local residents fend for themselves by teaching fiscal responsibility.
Michael Boron, former corporate financial executive and current ministry director for St. John's, has developed a program that would help low-income households and senior citizens learn to budget their money called "It'$ All About You!"
Still in the early planning stages, Boron sees the program as a series of four to six classroom lessons on basic personal financial literacy skills. Materials will come from a 380-page document from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau called "Your Money, Your Goals - A Financial Empowerment Toolkit," which covers budgeting, self-assessment and goal setting. He hopes to start classes in October.
"The goal is pretty basic," Boron said. "If they can find a way through being more attentive or changing their habits or behaviors to find another 10 or 15 bucks a week, it may not sound like much, but for families living in this environment and going through the stresses of living in this environment, that's a lot."
The two target audiences for these first sessions include those living in poverty and senior citizens. As a three-year project, Boron hopes to include high school juniors and seniors, and anyone involved in trade education programs. Then invite the general public. He hopes to have a steady cycle of classes throughout the school year.
"There are a lot of people out there who are OK in life, but they really haven't had the background or the experience in learning about something like this," Boron said.
Boron has worked with Kathleen Hall, a social worker with Catholic Charities, and Maureen Wendt from the Dale Association, which focuses on helping seniors, to design the program. "They have been very helpful in telling me how they run different types of programs for similar audiences in their world; what works, what doesn't? How much is too much? How little is too little? I've picked their brains and they will continue or start to be a source of potential clients once we get this thing up and rolling," he said.
Boron, a former instructor at Bryant & Stratton, designed the program as a project during a Champion for Change course developed by One Region Forward. The course teaches participants how to turn ideas into action through practical tools, knowledge and support to take back their communities. The workshops cover key planning techniques to implement sustainable development in our region. Participants learn the importance of planning and how to make an action plan.
St. John's has been helping the community since 1983, when it opened Sister Helen's Food Pantry, offering bags of balanced food to create nutritious meals. Boron and Joan Barrett are the only two employees in the ministry. They estimate 40 people volunteer their time to pack grocery bags so local residents can have healthy, balanced meals. They call the pantry the "cornerstone" of their ministries. "Our focus is serving low-income households across Eastern Niagara County with the focus being on the city of Lockport, but going well beyond that," Boron said.
An infant care program offering diapers and wipes, not covered by WIC or SNAP, began several years ago. It services 90 families with infants a month, which Boron said is "up substantially" in the past couple of months. The pantry also offers basic adult hygiene products, such as soap, toothpaste and toilet paper.
"All those pieces run off the pantry and the pantry client base," he said. "We're servicing about 230 households a month in total through the pantry."
In addition to the pantry, St. John's has a furniture ministry where they collect and distribute furniture to low-income households with a demonstrated need in Eastern Niagara County, serving 290 households each year.
Boron points to Delphi Harrison selling its thermal business in 2015 as causing an economic downturn and the loss of many jobs. The level of poverty in the city of Lockport has reached 16 percent.
"Over time the economic character of Eastern Niagara County has changed radically," he said. "That huge economic driver in Eastern Niagara County disappeared. So, we're nothing like we were three or four decades ago."
Currently, St. John's is looking for teaching assistants, who have knowledge of economic material and the ability to engage a small group, and Founding Fathers, individuals willing to make a financial donation to cover the start up costs of "It'$ All About You!"
For more information, call 716-514-2009.